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The Problem of Pain

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For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain? And what of the suffering of animals, who neither deserve pain nor can be improved by it?

The greatest Christian thinker of our time sets out to disentangle this knotty issue. With his signature wealth of compassion and insight, C. S. Lewis offers answers to these crucial questions and shares his hope and wisdom to help heal a world hungry for a true understanding of human nature.

162 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1940

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About the author

C.S. Lewis

1,268 books40.2k followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

Lewis was married to poet Joy Davidman.
W.H. Lewis was his elder brother]

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Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,815 followers
March 27, 2019
“’Where will you put all the mosquitoes?’-a question to be answered on its own level by pointing out that, if worst came to worst, a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for men could very conveniently be combined.”

This is not your Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis. This is Professor Lewis teaching a theology course. The material is interesting and thought provoking, but the delivery can be a bit dry and heavy at times. Throughout, though, there are little gems like the quote above to make you smile.

At one point, Lewis was an atheist, but over time through his intellectual inquiries and deductive reasoning became a Christian and wrote a series of spiritual books to help explain (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce to name a few). The Problem Of Pain is the first one that I have read, but I will say with this one his approach is definitely analytical – very unlike a church service where they preach to the emotions. This is like going to a calculus class instead of listening to a sermon – so be aware if you decide to read.

Also, as mentioned, this is a book written by a former atheist about Christian ideas. I will not pass judgement on the content or what readers should make of it based on their own spiritual beliefs. I will only say that if you are a hardcore atheist and reading anything with a Christian angle annoys you, then do not read this. If you are an atheist, but like to read about religious concepts, it is worth giving a shot. If you are a Christian, I cannot guarantee that you will like it as it is pretty heavy – not your typical Sunday discussion with your church peers. If you are a Christian theologian, then I would say that you have to read this! If you are another religion entirely, I cannot say for sure if you will find this interesting or not . . .

I already mentioned this is not your Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis – if your only experience with Lewis is Narnia and you really know nothing else about him or his spiritual writings, I suggest doing some research ahead of time before trying out this book or you may be very disappointed.

I am giving it 3 stars – the only deduction being because of my struggle to stay interested in his delivery. Other than that, some interesting food for thought!
Profile Image for Louize.
426 reviews43 followers
May 17, 2015

Pain posted a serious objection to Christianity (and to Heavenly authority in general), aggravated by claiming that Love is the essence of God. The Problem of Pain focuses on one question, but thoroughly argues on every aspect.
"If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both."

In other words, why would an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God allow people to experience pain and suffering?

Firstly, Lewis set his arguments by identifying God, as conceivable as possible, and his purpose through the subject of divine omnipotence and divine goodness. He argued that since we are beings of free souls and have the luxury of free will, we take advantage of the fixed laws of nature to hurt ourselves and one another. Yet, even though God is omnipotent and can do whatever he pleases, removing pain leads to a meaningless universe.
"Nonsense remains nonsense even if we talk it about God."
"Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself.”

God’s idea of good is unlike ours; His moral judgment must, therefore, differ from ours. Where God means love, we only mean Kindness. But love is not mere kindness. Let us have a mental note how much confusion between love and kindness is related to our modern thinking.
"Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering", while Love "would rather see [the loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes".

Recognizing the distinction between love and kindness illuminates what it means to be the object of God’s love. Because God loves us, he will not rest until we are purely lovable. To not want pain, therefore, is to not want His love.
"Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love."

Next, he establishes his argument for the total corruption and the sin nature of man, as without a sin nature there is no reason to be corrected. How a bad creature could come from the hands of a good Creator? The most obvious answer is that it did not: man, and the rest of creation, was initially good, but through the abuse of freedom, man made himself an abominable, wicked creature he is now.
"The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God's own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces. The doctrine of the Fall asserts that the evil which thus makes the fuel or raw material of the second and more complex kind of good is not God's contribution but man's".

Pain, through trials and sacrifices, teaches us to rely on God, to act out of spiritual strength, to act for purely heavenly purpose and to accept our discipleship.
"Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God's, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it."

If distressful feelings disguise itself as thought, all nonsense is possible- faith in God is challenged, we object to His goodness, and worse, we doubt His existence. All of those seemed valid to a suffering soul, due to the sway of unbearable pain.
"We are not merely imperfect creatures that need improvement: we are rebels that need lay down their arms".

In conclusion then, pain is not a mere influence to make a creature's submission to the will of God easier. Remembering Prophet Isaiah’s words in the Bible, chapters 46-53, God has called him prior to his birth. He was molded and polished through physical pain, trials and humiliation to be equipped for God’s divine purpose.

When I first considered reading this book, I asked myself if I am lucid enough to absorb Lewis’ arguments. I ended up quoting him and taking notes more than I usually do. But then, I realized that I am merely to review, not write an abridge version. The Problem of Pain is a difficult read; it is not for the casual reader and you should expect to be intellectually challenged. But the big difficulty is much smaller compared to the bigger lessons within.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
January 28, 2011
Well, it's not like I really disagree with C.S. Lewis's argument here. I just think that the essential points are summed up rather more succinctly in the first few minutes of Monty Python's "Happy Valley" sketch:
STORYTELLER: Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lay in a valley far, far away in the mountains the most contented kingdom the world has ever known. It was called Happy Valley, and it was ruled over by a wise old king called Otto. And all his subjects flourished and were happy, and there were no discontents or grumblers, because wise King Otto had had them all put to death, along with the trade union leaders, many years before. And all the happy folk of Happy Valley sang and danced all day long, and anyone who was for any reason miserable or unhappy or who had any difficult personal problem was prosecuted under the Happiness Act.

PROSECUTOR: Caspar Schlitz, I put it to you that you were, on February 5th this year, very depressed with malice aforethought, and did moan quietly, contrary to the Cheerful Noises Act.


COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE: May I explain, m'lud, that the reason for my client's behaviour was that his wife had just died that morning?

[All except the accused laugh uproariously.]

JUDGE: Members of the jury, have you reached your verdict?

FOREMAN: Guilty.

[All laugh again.]

JUDGE: [donning red nose and trying to stifle giggles] I hereby sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you cheer up.

[Yet more hearty laughter]
Profile Image for Allison Tebo.
Author 20 books323 followers
February 17, 2023
UPDATED REVIEW: Still just as wonderful; though I do disagree with a few points - namely that Lewis seemed to believe in theistic evolution: which is a bunkum. But that just goes to show that no one gets everything right. And, honestly, I believe if Lewis had lived in our time, when science has finally begun to catch up to the Truth, he would have accepted the irrefutability of a young Earth, and a literal Genesis.


We’ve probably all wondered this or asked the question at least once in our lives. Why does pain exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would a loving God allow us to experience pain in any capacity?

By the end of this book, any who read it ought to be not only enlightenment but, more importantly, humbled.

If, by some chance, this book doesn’t answer the question sufficiently for you, it should encourage you to surrender our questions, release our puffed up assumptions, and hand over our questions and confusion to a Mighty God.

As always, it is difficult if not impossible for me to accurately relate the beneficial genius of Lewis’s non-fiction work. You’ll have to read it for yourself as I leave you yet again with a few tantalizing quotes.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

“Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved… Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.”

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 5 books134 followers
August 19, 2021
I wasn't much for reading nonfiction voluntarily in my youth. The Problem of Pain was the second installment of Lewis' nonfiction I chose of my own free will (after The Abolition of Man, only because of the preface to That Hideous Strength) and my first propositional apologetics book by any author. It therefore probably wields outsized influence on my opinions, being formative; but I still think The Problem of Pain is Lewis' best propositional apologetics book (I think his essays are generally stronger than his books), and ranks among the best-in-genre.

Baldly titled, the book considers how to square the obvious realities of human suffering, evil, and moral imperfections in the natural world (including animal suffering), plus the asserted existence of Hell, with the asserted existence of a benevolent divine Creator.

It is not a book designed to comfort readers, nor to provide definitive or authoritative answers to these questions. Rather, it presents well-considered, well-researched, morally- and intellectually-satisfying hypotheses that, if true, resolve the apparent contradiction between Christian belief in the Creator's goodness and our lived reality of the Creation's pain.

If that paradox troubles you, this book may help -- even if you don't find it fully convincing.

This book, and all books of its kind, do their best work by helping us clamber out of the narrow spaces inside our own heads, where shades of error in our education or the solitary spiral of our inner puzzlings can trap us, and into a wider world of hope. I don't mean mere speculation; I mean the realization, which strikes me often, that many thousands of people much smarter than me have considered these problems deeply, and concluded that certain beliefs are reasonable, even after rigorous examination. I may not find all the right answers, but the search is not meaningless; and I am not alone.
Profile Image for Winston Jen.
115 reviews32 followers
July 6, 2014
CS Lewis is held by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. Unless one is morbidly naive, or has yet to encounter the counterarguments to Christianity in particular and theism in general, I honestly cannot see where his appeal lies.

How CS Lewis should have died.


The Problem of Evil is an insurmountable one for Christians (and all other theists who believe in a perfectly loving, all-powerful and all-knowing god). There have been intense and motivated efforts over the past two millennia to defend such a position rationally, and they have all failed. Miserably. Utterly. And in many cases, dishonestly.

Some approached involve invoking an unknown "greater good" defense (which throws god's omnipotence under the bus. An omnipotent deity could simply actualise a desired goal without needing to use suffering as a "middle man"). Attempts to shift the problem by asserting that human happiness is not the goal of life (but knowing god is) removes the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of god (if you love someone, you don't want them to suffer. It really is that simple). On page 104, Lewis concedes that not everyone suffers equally. He does not give a reason for this, and indeed, admits that our puny human minds cannot understand why god would allow some to live decades in comfort and luxury while others suffer for months or years on end. To quote Lewis himself: "The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do NOT (emphasis Lewis', in italics). Our Lord Himself, it will be remembered, explained the salvation of those who are fortunate in this world only by referring to the unsearchable omnipotence of God."

That's not an explanation. Lewis is falling back on the ancient and ubiquitous appeal to ignorance. God's mysterious ways are beyond us. Well, by that "logic," he could send all Christians to hell and everyone else to heaven, and Lewis, by his own admission, would just have to suck up an eternity of torture.

The old canard of free will is often invoked. Unfortunately, free will is meaningless unless everyone has an equal amount of it. This is undeniably NOT the case. Not everyone is given the same lifespan, physical strength, mental acuity, political clout, financial resources, and so on. Lewis is pontificating from the luxurious confines of his residence, funded by conveniently gullible sheep. This has certainly damaged his ability to empathise with the billions who live on less than a dollar each day. And the thousands who starve to death every time the Earth completes a full rotation.

Lewis also, perhaps unwittingly, advocates a social Darwinism in which the rich and physically powerful are able to murder, rape and steal from weaker individuals (and are therefore less able to exercise their own free will to prevent their own suffering). Lewis worships a cosmic pedophile who revels in granting freedom to abhorrent individuals while getting his jollies from seeing the most vulnerable suffer and die in agony (only to get thrown into even more torture in the Christian vision of hell).

Lastly, a loving god would take away free will from those who would willingly surrender it in return for a life without suffering. Funnily enough, Lewis seems to believe in a heaven without suffering but with all the bells and whistles of freedom. So why not create that universe from the get-go and stick with it? Why create a universe with even the possibility of corruption? It certainly is not something a perfect god would do. Then again, a perfect god would not blackmail beings he supposedly loves for eternal worship.

While Lewis is usually a good writer, capable of spinning yarns to attract the attention of children and young teenagers, he also assumes that there is a deep, overriding purpose behind suffering. This purpose is so important that it is more critical to his god to NOT end suffering now, but to let things run their "natural" course until his plan is complete. In service of this goal, he creates a short story that is akin to an essay on theistic evolution, and how man is ultimately responsible for the Fall and his own corruption. If god knows everything, including the future, then he orchestrated the fall (and everything else) before setting his plan into motion. Arguing that god exists outside of time is a lazy copout, nothing more.

As a 'loudspeaker' for the Christian god, pain has done more to drive people away from him than anything else. An all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good god would not allow any suffering, even in the service of a so-called "greater good." And if such a god desires suffering for a greater good, then it would follow logically that his followers should cause suffering to convert more people. After all, that is god's best tool for getting our attention, is it not? Fortunately, CS Lewis and most Christians today do not follow this logic to its end point. Those who do open hospitals and hospices and waste money on bibles rather than food (explaining why only 25% of tithes go to benefit indigent people around the world). CS Lewis realised this, which is why he asserted, in chapter 7, that while evil acts can lead to "greater" goods such as pity and compassion, the individual who commits evil is not justified simply because positive benefits will flow.

The hypocrisy here is glaringly apparent when Lewis moves on to depict his god as using good men as "sons" and evil men as "tools" to achieve his goals. Such an obvious double standard is patently hypocritical and serves to do little except expose Lewis' advocacy of divine fiat for what it is - blind obedience (which is the antithesis of sound moral reasoning).

His childishly puerile attempts to justify hell are perhaps the only thing worse. According to Lewis' theology, pain is used by god as a teacher, a "flag of truth in a rebel fortress" (p. 122). This obviously misses the point - an omnipotent god would not need to use pain. If a tri-omni deity knows good from evil without needing to suffer, why couldn't he have simply created humans who were likewise omniscient? This is yet another obvious point that is glossed over by a highly overrated apologist.
Profile Image for Traveller.
228 reviews714 followers
January 16, 2015
< -<-<- < -<-<- This or.... This or...this->->-->->- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pPoRn...

Personally, I lean more towards the latter camp. Lewis does at least make a good, solid, and sophisticated effort to address the problem of: "Why does God allow so much pain and suffering, if He is really a loving God, and if He really does exist?"; - which is why Lewis gets 3 stars, even if I don't completely agree.

I remember quite liking his argument at the time I read it, which was quite some time ago. He seemed to be saying that pain is sent to test a person, to make you stronger, to help you grow spiritually so that you could become a more spiritually evolved and aware person.

But, I have in the meantime started wondering: on the other hand, what kind of cruel deity would devise such a system, that includes such horrible suffering as the world has seen? Even if it is to make them 'stronger', or cause them to grow spiritually.

Lewis's argument, IMO, would hold water better if you reckoned re-incarnation into the system. Then it would make more sense to throw obstacles into the path of a soul in it's evolutionary journey towards Nirvana.

..but in the Christian world, where the most common doctrine I have heard, is that all you need to do is to proclaim Jesus as your savior to win an automatic seat in heaven, no need for you to grow spiritually, it doesn't seem to fit in quite 100%.

I must admit that I do like the idea of spiritual growth, such as presented in this book, and in The Pilgrim's Progress, for instance.

Unfortunately, now that I am older, wiser, and seen more suffering in both myself and others, I'm not quite as inured to Lewis's arguments, and not quite so eager to welcome pain and suffering.

PS. After reading a bit of Thomas Aquinas, I realized that Lewis borrows a LOT from him.
Profile Image for RC.
15 reviews33 followers
June 1, 2007
It says something that after so many years C. S. Lewis is still one of the foremost Christian apologists of our time. The Problem of Pain is a difficult question every religion has to deal with, and one which has been especially difficult for Christianity. Some religions have the luxury of explaining pain as something deserved - a result of bad behavior from a previous life, or perhaps pain and suffering are caused by a malevolent deity in opposition to a good and loving God. Christianity has no such option.

“If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”

Lewis presents a very readable and widely accessible solution to this problem, covering the origins of human suffering, incurred in the fall, what divine omnipotence and goodness really mean, and why they allow for the existence of pain in creation, heaven and hell, and a topic not often treated but important - the existence of pain in animals who are in every sense innocent.

Particularly useful is Lewis' distinction between kindness and love. Lewis reminds us that real love, a love that looks out for the best interests of the beloved, sometimes requires the inflicting of painful experience. From the perspective of the one undergoing the experience, this may not seem like love, but any parent, teacher, or anyone tasked with the guidance of the young will understand that this sort of “tough love” is often necessary if one does not want a spoiled child to grow into a spoiled adult.

Profile Image for Amy.
2,578 reviews400 followers
January 22, 2016
This book was a really interesting and poignant analysis of pain and the Christian response to it. I read it alongside A Grief Observed because I wanted to know if Lewis's "intellectual" answers stood alongside his "emotional" ones. (That is one of the greatest oversimplifications of either book I could possibly make but that is how I started out.) I quickly realized the two are almost incomparable. They aren't intended to be comparable. While A Grief Observed was a heart-wrenching and yet inspiring read, The Problem of Pain was almost more so. His description of heaven and hell really impacted my understanding on a subject I thought I was pretty comfortable in.
It isn't a 5 star book. I disagree with some of his conclusions and theology.
It wasn't a book that necessarily "blew my mind", yet at the same time it challenged and restructured a lot of my thoughts.

One of my favorite thoughts in the book is this from page 116: "The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."
Profile Image for Addy S..
170 reviews64 followers
January 30, 2019
This was a beautiful, beautiful book. C.S. Lewis really dives into the topic of pain and suffering with Biblical focus. Highly recommend to those questioning, ‘Why must we suffer?’

five stars
Profile Image for Toe.
194 reviews49 followers
May 6, 2018
Apology for the existence of pain and suffering. Lewis's comfortable, easy style speaks to me in most all of his books. This is no exception.

Memorable quotes:

"Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved..." - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

"Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter." - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Profile Image for Kjersti.
49 reviews28 followers
January 16, 2011
I absolutely loved this book. I laughed, I blurted out loud "HA!"s between classes and generally forgot about time and place. It's very, VERY good book. My only concern with this review is on my side; I had a goal to get through it in three days, which I did. Thus, there were some parts I read through without the attention I probably should have devoted to it. I don't usually like writing reviews where the fault is with me; but alas, here I am.

As for content, CS Lewis has, as always, very well thought-out arguments and a logical approach to his content. There were a couple minor instances where I disagreed with ever-so-slightly, but I had no concerns even close to major. If you want to compare this to his other works, I find it's slightly weaker than his later books.. But that does in no way mean this is poor craftmanship. Surely, to improve with time is a positive thing, and you cannot hold that against him.

All in all, I loved it and I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind a theoretical approach to things.
Profile Image for Amelia, free market Puritan.
349 reviews35 followers
July 19, 2017
*Just* as good as Mere Christianity, but not quite as easy to understand. I would say that this book is probably more relevant in our culture now than when it was first published.
I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, because it seeks to give answers to questions that everybody asks at some point.

The idea behind this book is "why do we have pain in our life?" or more specifically, "If God is supposed to be good, and powerful, and "in charge," why does He allow suffering?" If you're just a little like me, you may find it easy to rattle off questions and then...not exactly look for an answer. There's a kind of self-preserving security about being able to ask questions that you may or may not actually want answered. But I took a CS Lewis class in college (yes, there is such a thing! And even cooler - one of our sister schools has a class on Tolkien!), and this was required reading.
Lewis had a gift of taking abstract and complex subjects and making them understandable. Granted, you may have to read his sentences a few times before you get what he's saying, but the idea itself is easy to understand.

We had to give chapter presentations on this one, and of course, I had to do the "Hell" chapter. So if you read this book and get to the Hell chapter, you can think of me :P

The thing that I love about Lewis is that he always backs up his points. It's never this, "Oh, well I have all the answers and here they are!" You may not agree with his interpretation (and some of the times in this book, I didn't really see things the same way he does) but I understand where he's coming from. I guess what a lot of people can appreciate about Lewis is that he really tries to back up what he's saying.
Profile Image for Bobbie.
266 reviews12 followers
June 6, 2019
This book is very thought provoking and I got a lot out of it. Some parts were a little difficult for me to grasp so I believe I will want to buy my own copy to refer back to and reread in the future. This is the first I have read by C. S. Lewis and I hope to read more by him.
Profile Image for W.R. Gingell.
Author 41 books919 followers
September 8, 2022
4.5 stars

do not always agree with what cs lewis thinks about The Thing under discussion, but do wholeheartedly love the way he makes me THINK about The Thing

this one has also turned out to be unexpectedly useful, thematically speaking, for the next series i'm writing

read as audiobook
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
March 3, 2014
Review was first posted on Booklikes:

I first read The Problem of Pain when I was an impressionable teenager in search of the meaning of life. How I got to C.S. Lewis, however, is a long story that I'll reserve for another post/review.

Anyway, I loved the The Problem of Pain when I first read it. I couldn't put it down.

When I started clearing my bookshelves last year in attempt to de-clutter, I came across my old and dusty copy of the book again and started to re-read.

What I love about The Problem of Pain - actually, all of Lewis' books I've read - is his use of language and his use of similes, which make it easy to follow his argument.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis elaborates on the meaning of divine goodness, human pain, animal pain, heaven, hell - not necessarily in this order, though - and tries to explain from his Christian point of view what divine love is, what pain is, why humans can feel pain, and that there is a divine purpose to suffering.

When I first read this almost twenty years ago, I could accept the possibility that there may be a substance to the arguments he puts forward. Having re-read this now, I still admire Lewis' use of language and the elegance of his argument but I find it very difficult to be persuaded by it. Now, the argument that there is a purpose to suffering that allows the individual to grow or improve spiritually seems little more than wishful thinking.

Of course, my take on this may sound rather pessimistic. However, where Lewis draws from Thomas Aquinas and other sources of formal religious Christian teaching, I feel much more aligned with other schools of thought that would choose kindness towards living beings over the particular form of patriarchal tyranny of divine love that Lewis describes.

(Sidenote: Btw Jack, how dare you say that the newt has no self! For all we know, he might.

Seriously, I'm not impressed by an argument that starts with the notion that we cannot know what God's intentions are or indeed know anything that is outside of the human experience, and which then categorically denies that non-human living beings have a notion of the "self". )
Profile Image for Emily Gayle.
172 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2020
In this book C S Lewis does an excellent job of describing pain and human suffering in the midst of trying to understand how God, Heaven and Hell fit into the picture. “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a dead world.” Taken from Chapter 6.
Definitely read this book for a deeper understanding of Divine Omnipotence and human pain. I rate it five stars, but I also recognize I have a bias and huge regard for every C S Lewis book I’ve read.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,230 reviews65 followers
April 26, 2012
First read September 12-14, 2001. The problem of pain is that it isn't a problem in the way we think it is when we first begin to look at the entire subject. The book reminded me of looking at the negative image of a familiar picture.

If I thought to read about pain to seek its alleviation, I might have saved myself the trouble. In my second reading of The Problem of Pain I was again surprised and impressed by Lewis. I could highlight most of the text. He pulls no punches, cuts me no slack. I like that. His description of God’s relentless love, it is as beautiful as it is demanding. This God is a Father who holds His children accountable. If there is pain, it serves a purpose. And then there is sin...
‘...mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. The guilt is washed away not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ: if we have repented these early sins we should remember the price of our forgiveness and be humble. As for the fact of a sin, is it probable that anything cancels it? All times are eternally present to God. ... We must guard against the feeling that there is “safety in numbers”. It is natural to feel that if all men are as bad as the Christians say, then badness must be very excusable. ... There are those odd people among us who do not accept the local standard, who demonstrate the alarming truth that a quite different behavior is, in fact, possible. Worse still, there is the fact that these people, even when separated widely in space and time, have a suspicious knack of agreeing with one another in the main – almost as if they were in touch with some larger public opinion outside the pocket.’
Read again soon!
Profile Image for Grace Crandall.
Author 6 books52 followers
February 16, 2017
There's something incredibly comforting about C.S. Lewis's writing style. He explains things well and clearly, but on the points he's unsure about he's honest. (Actually he's always honest, blazingly so, in a way that's doubly endearing and challenging, but perhaps that's beside the point).

Though it's technically a point-by-point defense of Christianity against the 'pain and suffering in the world proves the absence of a good god' argument, The Problem of Pain never seems like just a bit of apologetics. It's logical, but not without emotional weight, and even while attempting to prove the necessity of pain Lewis retains a great deal of sensitivity and compassion. The book is a conversation more than an argument, and a pretty jovial conversation at that.

The clarity of each individual point, and the fluid way all the points came together into conclusion after conclusion, was staggering. Theology is a heady, mystifying subject at the best of times, and I'm eternally in love with how Lewis can somehow admit the mystery while making graspable what parts of it really are open to view. It was also balanced, incredibly so; justice was talked about and mercy never forgotten, free will was put forth as the necessity it is while the ultimate sovereignty of God constantly reinforced. There's a kind of high-flying joy and grounded solemness sandwiching the narrative, and the points where the joy and wonder of it all were brought into focus took my breath away.

This is a beautiful, excellent book and I'm definitely going to be reading it more than once :)
Profile Image for Hope.
1,295 reviews89 followers
May 15, 2018
I've struggled for weeks to try to write an overview of this complex book. Lewis does much more than try to explain human suffering. In fact, my most important takeaways had to do with what it means to be human and how human flourishing is impossible without a right relationship to our Creator.

Just as the members of the Trinity live in perfect, mutual, self-giving love, so mankind can only find real joy when living in selfless unity with God. Rejection of God's sovereign authority over His creatures brought sin and suffering into the world - and ultimately, according to Lewis, results in Hell.

One quote: "From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. . . . What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor 'ordinary life,' but simply and solely Hell. . . . That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality." (152)

A difficult, but very worthwhile book.
Profile Image for C.
1,100 reviews1,047 followers
November 22, 2015
Lewis addresses the problem of pain, which he describes in this way: "If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He were almighty, He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both."

As a Christian, I've often wondered about this issue, especially when friends are diagnosed with cancer or the country suffers terrorist attacks. It's a difficult question, and although I accept the explanation through faith, grasping it rationally is another matter. Lewis does a good job dealing with the matter from both perspectives. However, I doubt many non-Judeo-Christians would be persuaded by this book. Lewis wouldn't be entirely at fault for that.

The main place where I disagree with Lewis is on the Creation and Fall of man. He rejects a literal interpretation of Genesis, including a 6-day creation, Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit, and temptation by Satan. Instead, Lewis believes that humans evolved from apes or more primitive life forms, and that the Genesis account is a myth. I was surprised by this, because he references creation accounts and Adam and Eve in other works like The Chronicles of Narnia and Perelandra, from his Space Trilogy. Perhaps he considers them all equally fictional stories.

The other reason I find Lewis' rejection of a literal interpretation of Genesis surprising is that it causes many inconsistencies in the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments contain references to the 6-day creation and the Fall, and how the Fall affected not only humanity, but the rest of the planet as well. Jesus Himself talks about such issues. Lewis accepts the modern scientific view that pain and suffering existed on Earth for millennia before humans appeared. So much for "God saw that it was good".

Despite such disagreements, I thought Lewis presented a thought-provoking case for why God allows pain to exist. My favorite reason presented is that pain distracts us from our comfortable lives where we're all too eager to forget about faith and God, and forces us to become closer to Him and other Christians.

When we say God is omnipotent (all-powerful), we mean He can do anything that's intrinsically possible. It's nonsense to claim He can do what's intrinsically impossible or self-contradictory.

The possibility of suffering is required by nature and free wills. To exclude it is to exclude life itself.
We were not made primarily to love God, but for God to love us. 1 John 4:10.

Because God has and is all, He only loves us and is grieved by us because He chooses to.

We sin not because of ignorance or inability, but because we aren't truly intending to avoid it.

Lewis rejects Total Depravity because, logically, we wouldn't know our depravity if we were totally depraved, and because he sees so much goodness in human nature.

The question, "Was it better for God to create than to not create?" is meaningless, because the reality that allows us to even pose the question requires that God did create. If the question did have any meaning, the answer must be yes, simply because God did create.

Lewis believes that humans descended from animals, and that God granted them consciousness once they were sufficiently advanced. The Fall was an act of self-will or self-interest (and thus, rebellion against God) exhibited by these early humans.

The Fall didn't surprise God. "God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula."

Lewis' theory for the origin of disease and death: Before the Fall, God ruled the human organism through the human spirit.When man rejected God, the human spirit lost control of the human organism, and biochemical and environmental forces brought pain, senility, and death.

Lewis rejects the notion that we inherit Original Sin or moral responsibility from Adam (or some other remote ancestor). He says we're members of a "spoiled species" by our own will and actions.

If the omniscient (all-knowing) God knew that Abraham would obey him, why the needless torture of testing his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac? Because even what God foresees/predestines hasn't actually occurred until the human performs it.

God uses tribulation to take our attention off our lives and toys, and forces us to focus on Him. Thus, tribulation must continue until we are remade (or our remaking is hopeless, in the case the unsaved).

Because tribulation is necessary for redemption, no economic or political reform can bring about heaven on earth. However, we must still attempt to remove the evils of this world simply do to a strong sense of common miseries.

"You will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John".

People go to Hell because they chose to. They exercise their free will to reject God. "The doors of hell are locked on the inside".

You can't expect God to do more to help humans avoid Hell than he already has by dying on the cross at Calvary.

Lewis believes that non-human (plant, animal, etc.) life was corrupted by Satan or some other non-human entity before humans existed. Carnivorousness and animal "suffering" existed prior to humans.

Animals and plants can't truly suffer because they aren't sentient.

God created individuals so he could love each differently, and that each could love and worship Him differently.

Heaven isn't a bribe. "There are rewards that do not sully motives. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to."
Profile Image for Elevetha .
1,768 reviews168 followers
June 7, 2021
4.5 stars. Nearly perfect.

One of my favorite quotes (not from the chapter "Heaven", in case you were wondering.)

"One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”

I started reading this on a Wednesday afternoon as a religious book to read whilst covering for a Holy Hour but I soon realized that it was so much more than that. I wasn't really expecting to be too engaged with the book or to actually desire to finish it once I had the opportunity to do other things.

Silly me. I should have known better. It is C.S. Lewis, after all.

Edit: Nov 2014

Unfortunately, I put this book down, lost it, and never got around to finding a new copy. However, this book and its content has become quite relevant, so I'm starting it again.

It's really just genius. I'll admit that there were sections, mostly smack dab in the middle, that I had to re-read over and over before I felt like I had gotten it. And then there were a few sections where I didn't feel that the ideas had sunk into my brain like I wished. So I wrestled past those few pages and came upon the chapter "Animal Pain", which was very easy to read and understand. And then I came upon the chapter "Heaven" and, nearly immediately, I knew that it would be my favorite chapter. Oh, there were parts of the book that I will endeavor to carry the words in my head, and they shall be jumbled around in a great mess, and undoubtedly come out mangled when I try to recite them as the occasion demands. But I think I shall carry the meaning and the beauty of that last chapter in my heart, even if I cannot help but fail to explain it to another.
Profile Image for Samantha B.
311 reviews22 followers
November 12, 2021
Lewis does not disappoint! This book was not as mind-bogglingly amazing as some of his other non-fiction, perhaps because I have had excellent catechists who love Lewis and who introduced me to the ideas that he proposes earlier in my life. But it was still a really good, solid base work on suffering!

Some things I found especially interesting:
-His careful point that just because God can bring about good from evil doesn't mean we should cause suffering.
-The points that he makes about the way God uses suffering for good in peoples' lives, to recall them to Him. That meshes really well with one of my WIPs, and I'll definitely be referring back to it as I start the 2nd draft, eventually!
-The section on animal suffering. I'm not sure if I entirely agree with it, but I did find it fascinating.

Overall, would recommend! 4 stars!
Profile Image for MODY  Eliya.
73 reviews22 followers
June 4, 2022
كتاب مجهد للذهن جدا
حقيقتآ لم ادرك كل ما قرأت في هذا الكتاب من افكار وترابطها معا
ولكنه به افكار فريدة ومميزة لم تخطر لي علي بال من قبل
افكار غنية وممتعة للتأمل فيها
بالطبع سأعود لقراءةه مره اخري ...من أجل فهم أعمق ورؤيه أوضح
هذا الكتاب اول عمل اقرأه كاملا ل سي.اس.لويس.
ولا أعلم صعوبة فهمه (ناتجه من كثره الحواشي بين قوسين وسط الكتابه واسفل الصفحات معآ)بسبب الترجمة أم أن هذا هو اسلوب الكاتب في كل كتبه.
Profile Image for Pamela Shropshire.
1,295 reviews56 followers
May 21, 2019
Of all the philosophical arguments about the existence of God, this is probably the one most frequently raised. I mean, it’s obvious, right? Everyone has experienced pain at some time, or has witnessed a loved one in pain, or at least has looked around and seen the poverty and suffering in the world around them, and being human, asked why. Why - if God exists, and if he is a loving God as Christianity claims - why would he give us bodies that develop illnesses and grow old and eventually die?

Christianity answers, of course, that He didn’t, but that evil and sickness and disease and death entered the world with the Fall of Man. Lewis goes back even before the Fall to begin his rebuttal; he opines that sin, and therefore pain, is inherent in the creation of any creature with full consciousness and free will. This is not a shiny new argument you can run and dazzle all your atheist friends with, but Lewis’s great value, IMO, is the clear, concise and logical way in which he tries to cover every aspect of the topic, along with his generally conversational style of writing.

Lewis doesn’t hesitate to speculate about the bits where we have no clear teaching in Scripture, and these were the bits I enjoyed the most. A couple of examples are on the nature of Hell and the possibility of immortality for at least some of the animals.

*edited* I’ve been thinking about the preceding paragraph and have decided “speculate” is not really the correct word. What Lewis does is synthesize the various Scriptures on the subject, along with what we know about the natural law, and then, using logic and reason, presents a hypothesis.

Lewis, being an academic, was very well read, and he makes numerous allusions to literature. I would likely have missed all of them except references to Shakespeare and the Bible, but I stumbled upon a website that has tracked down most of these allusions. Since I found it helpful, I’ll add the link here
Profile Image for Alex.
177 reviews120 followers
November 10, 2021
A little book filled with wisdoms for theists and atheists alike (although mostly for theists). Here's a passage that more people should take to heart:
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.

If you're twenty-five and still envying the lab rat that starves to death because it has access to a pleasure-button, you might wanna read this, then read it again, then reconsider your personal philosophy. As Lewis argues, existence is not about nonsensical bliss, and love is not about selling opiates to your loved ones. It's just as much about kindness as it is about making them grow (which of course isn't the same as the "tough love" of parents and teachers that simply don't understand what compassion is).

Lewis also shares his ideas on hell, the fall, animal suffering, omnipotence, free will and many other topics. At least to me as a layperson, his theology always seemed quite sensible and thoughtful. His excellent reputation as an accesible Christian writer seems well deserved.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,291 reviews175 followers
June 26, 2016
Great discussion, but still so many unanswered questions. Reread in April 2015. Reread again June 2016.

You can tell this is one of Lewis's early books. Written in 1940, I could feel that he hadn't worked out a few of the specifics within his beliefs on Christianity yet. And some of his other ideas I flat-out disagree with (so sad to me whenever I see him trying to cram in Darwinian macro-evolution and discredit the creation story).

I can see why many feel inevitably dissatisfied with this read. But I think he does answer some important questions, even if not providing a completely exhaustive work on the issue of pain. I still enjoyed the casual Lewis tone.

Some memorable quotes:

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

"Pantheism is a creed not so much false as hopelessly behind the times. Once, before creation, it would have been true to say that everything was God. But God created: He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him, and achieve union instead of mere sameness."
Profile Image for كيكه الوزير.
252 reviews12 followers
May 25, 2021
One of the best things I've read in a long time. Genuinely really enjoyed the experience.

One of my favorite parts:

"We have attempted to reduce all virtues to kindness. Plato rightly taught that virtue is one. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If being cowardly, conceited, and slothful, you have never done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbors welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, your self approval, or ease. Every vice leads to cruelty. Even a good emotion, pity, if not controlled by charity and justice leads through anger to cruelty. Most atrocities are stimulated by accounts of the enemies atrocities and pity for the suppressed classes when separated from the moral law as a whole leads by a very natural process to the unremitting brutalities of a rein of terror."
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